Mike Dunn
The BlaaAAaag!!

#7. April 7, 2012:

Vision Quest 2012 by Mike Dunn

An email sent out by Warriors Society prior to the event:

"This is what you have trained for all year, your moment has arrived. Stay focused, stay hydrated, stay well fueled and we will see you at the finish line! At the end you will know why this event is considered one of the toughest mountain bike events in North America. You will never look at the Santa Ana Mountains the same again and you will cherish your finishing feather like no other award!"

I picked up my first mountain bike in 2007. I wasn't really serious about it. I am by no means an "athlete".. ..rather, just an average guy that enjoys nature, cycling, and comeraderie among friends. I had enjoyed riding in the dirt as a kid and was interested in getting back into bikes to get in shape. As with all my hobbies, the first thing I did was get on the internet and research all I could about my new passion. I came across an inspiring blog written by an every-day guy who took two years to build his fitness so that he could do an event that was way out of his physical reach. The event was called Vision Quest.

As years rolled on, that story always stuck with me. I would read more about the details of what Vision Quest was and realize what an endeavor the author of that inspiring story had taken on.

Fast-forward to October 1st, 2011. I hear through the grapevine that the Vision Quest tickets are about to go on sale. Knowing that the event has a a reputation of selling out in minutes, i exchange a few giddy texts with my friend Matt Crowther, and we decide to go for it. In all honesty, I attribute my bravery to four or five bottles of my favorite IPA, because this was not rational thinking considering the shape i was in on that day. I had been riding alot with the Goats, but i wasnt in the kind of condition it would take to get this done.

Fast-forward to the next day (post IPA-induced bravery), ...FEAR!!! ..and thoughts on training.

There were two major factors that i foresaw being obstacles in me getting this done. The first, and most obvious, was my conditioning. I needed to get myself ready for a day of big climbing. This ride was not about just being able to endure a long day of saddle-time, I would need to be able to complete the 55'ish miles while climbing over 11,000'! I had never done anything even close to this and i knew i needed alot of work.

The second factor was my weight. Years of beers and good eating had left me at least 15 lbs. too heavy, and i sure didnt forsee being able to take it off of the bike. I would need to ...diet (shudder), and lay off of the beer for a while. I committed myself to this goal December 30th: No more beers till April 8, and a strict diet conducive to muscle gain and fat loss.

I trained as much as my schedule and family life would allow for the next 3 months. My wife understood how important this had become to me and i think the diet made that even more apparent (i am not the 'dieting type'). I thank her, and my boys for being supportive. I have not prepared for any one event to this extent since playing in bands as a young man, and for me.. ..the training has been the best part. Ive enjoyed the discipline, and more importantly, the results. As of 'game day', i had lost 23 lbs., and feel better than i have in a long, long time.

April 7, 2012. 5:30 AM mass-start at the gate of Blackstar canyon! I see Matt work his way toward the front of the pack so that he can get a jump on the slower riders. I didnt feel that confident, and did not want the pressure of fast riders climbing up my rear. I settled in at around the 3/4 mark, and nervously waited for the gun.

I found myself passing alot of riders going up Blackstar. It made me feel confident, especially since i knew i was still 'within myself' and not pushing my heart rate. I had read from previous years about the 'trail of lights' going up Blackstar, and it was nothing short of inspiring to see. ..A long line of Mtb warriors marching into battle. ..truly amazing! At the beginning of Main Divide, i came across a few smiling faces that i was very happy to see. Mark Owens and Jake Pronio were there throwing 'high-fives', ..thanks more than you know.:)

As the day commenced, I checked my ride-times at all of my "important" checkpoints and felt very good about the numbers. I was breaking all of my personal records. When i checked my time at the top of Motorway (one of the important ones for me) and discovered i was 8 minutes ahead of my best time, i knew i was doing ok. ..And, again at the top of Santiago Peak, where i was 45 minutes ahead of where i felt i "needed" to be. All i felt i had to do was keep my head down, keep pedalling, and pray that my bike and tires would hold up. I knew flats would be prevalent, but i didnt expect the tire-carnage that i saw. It seemed that there was a pissed-off rider frantically fixing a tire at every turn. I found myself really 'eye-balling' my line, looking for jagged rocks and other tire-killers. I was on soft Schwalbe's and was worried, but they held up. I had no mechanicals all day, and consider myself very fortunate. My heart goes out to those that werent so lucky.

The worst part of the day was the animal known as West Horsethief. Climbing this trail occurs at about mile 40 of the event. I had done it once before, but was somewhat fresh when i did. This time i was not. The sun had set high in the sky and was blasting on the trail as i spent the next hour following the long line of "cyclists" pushing their bikes up this grade that approaches 35 degrees. The switch-back trail is just wide enough for a rider and his bike, and is covered with various-sized stones that make traction difficult. This was pure misery to an already energy and moisture depleted body.

I really felt i nailed my nutrition. I never bonked, or felt "without", ..even on West Horsethief where i felt i was coming close to my limit. Everyone runs differently, and rather than putting too much into what works for others, i focused on what i had felt made me more efficient in the past and put my faith in that. That was a worry of mine from the start, and it worked out ok.

As i rolled down the long descent toward the finish line, i took a moment to reflect on what i had done and enjoyed the satisfaction that i was sooo looking forward to during the last 5 months. It is moments like these that a person never forgets. Its a feeling that says "I can do anything!".. ..at least for a moment.

Vision Quest

Distance: 55.2 miles
Ascent: 11,200' of climbing
My Time: 8 hours, 45 minutes

For more info about the event and it's organizer: Warrior's Society

To See the course: Vision Quest

Ryan Strathearn
The BlaaAAaag!!

#6. November 12, 2011:

The 2011 12 hours of Temecula #3 by Ryan Strathearn

At the end of race day Mike asked if Id write a blog for this race. For me, this race was as much about the weather and preparation as it was the actual racing, so Ive also added a bit about the events leading up to race day.

Preparation: A few weeks ago I graciously volunteered my services for any team that needed me for the final race of the 12 hours of Temecula series. Chris Brissons spot on the 4-man SS team (+ Jeff, Greg, Gordon) opened up and I was asked if Id like to fill in for him. This suited me just fine since it would give me an opportunity to show off the speed of my new SS wonder bike. (Ha Ha) With my team decided, I began the mental preparation for the race. This events course included the Dam Climb, which I had only ridden up once a few years ago when I first started getting into MTBing. I knew this climb would be the key to my lap, so I started off my preparation asking the other SS guys what gearing theyd recommend. I also got on Strava to look at ascent and distance to see how it compared to other climbs Ive done on the SS. My conclusion was that my standard (and only) 32x20 gearing should work. In the couple of weeks leading up to the race life got busy and I didnt get a chance to ride at all, so when the Wed Night MVMG ride turned into a pre-ride of the course, I knew I had to give it a go and see where I stood both gearing and fitness-wise. The Wed night crew set off for the pre-ride under an awesome full moon; a perfect night for a ride. As you know, the Dam Climb comes up pretty much first thing from the start. I made the left hander to start the climb and assumed the SS grind-it-out, standing position and began the ascent. The first part was going well. I managed to keep the lights of the speedy Goats in sight. Then I hit the steep mid-section. It took a big effort to get up this section and I had to back off a bit to recover. I recalled there being a final step-up section just a bit before the end of the climb, so I backed off enough to store some reserves to make that final push. I wanted to see if I could clean the whole thing. The rocky, step-up section came up too quickly, but I managed to clean it. However, it had taken its toll. I slowly churned my way to the top and met up with the rest of the crew. I was happy I had cleaned it, but my lungs were toast and it would take me half of the lap to recover. In my mind on the rest of the night lap, I decided that my race day game plan would be to walk the two tough sections of the Dam Climb in order to save something for the rest of the lap. As they say, you have to sometimes lose the battle to win the war.

Weather: The weather for race weekend was the hot topic for the week. We pretty much knew it was going to rain, but the amount of rain and the temperature were the unknowns. I must have logged on to Weather.com at least a few times a day to check the latest report. On Friday night I just prepared for the worst: a change of clothes for every lap, extra standing around clothes, jackets, towels, trashbags, firewood, etc.

Race Day: Race day finally arrived. I was woken up about 4 am by the sound of a hard rain hitting my patio cover. The day was not starting off good. I forced myself back to sleep and when I finally got up for good, the rain had slowed down...Would that be the worst of it? My drive to Vail Lake was in a steady, moderate rain. I finally just resolved myself to thinking it is what it is. We had EZ-Ups, a campsite, and Pat had his trailer! Woo Hoo! I arrived at 7:30 am and got my stuff setup. I added my EZ-Up to the tent city, or as Gordon called it, -Occupy Vail Lake-. A few guys had brought propane heaters which turned out to be one of the smartest moves of the day. At this point the rain was still steadily falling. About 30-45 mins before the start of the race the rain stopped.

I was really hoping that was going to be it for the rain. The sky even got a little less cloudy. Things were looking up. We headed down to the starting line at 9 am and saw the starting Goats off on their lap. After that, I headed back to get ready for my first lap because I was up next. I was pretty much ready to go ride when I arrived. I just had to make the final decision on how much to wear for my lap. Would it rain? I hate riding hot, so I went with a wool t-shirt base layer and a long-sleeved MX jersey. After a little bit of sitting around, I headed down to the exchange spot to wait for Jeff.

My First Lap: Jeff finished his lap pretty much when expected. We transferred the baton. Jeff commented that the course conditions were awesome as I headed off for my first lap. I settled in for the quick pedal to the Dam Climb. I even got a little hot and pulled up the sleeves. My first lap ride up the Dam Climb was going to be a trafficky one. At the beginning there were about 10 of us strung out in a 200 yd distance. Id get a few guys on the climbing sections and then get passed by one on the flatter sections as I tried to get my heartrate back down for the next section. When I finally got to the first steep section I planned on walking there were about 4 of us bunched up. I sped up as best I could and attacked the hill first and climbed until I felt Id given enough. I then peeled off the main line and walked up to the top. The other guys behind me toughed it out, but they werent much faster. I could just about walk as fast as they were pedaling. I bet I only lost 5-10 seconds to the pack and was able to pass them all back by the top. I stuck to my plan and walked the rocky step-up section, but so did a lot of other riders. By the time I got to the top I was feeling good and MUCH better than I had the preceding Wed. night. Walking was the way to go for me personally and it turns out I was 1:12 faster on the Dam Climb on race day. The gradual downhill after Dam Climb was a good chance to recover. The ride was pretty uneventful until I hit the muddy uphill on the ridgeline a bit past the Ambulance turnoff. There were a couple of guys walking in front of me, but I gave it my best shot to clear the muddy hill. I stalled out and had to walk up a good half of it. I got to the top and jumped back on my bike ready to attack the skinny trail on the ridgeline. However, I couldnt get clipped back in because of the mud clogging my cleats and pedals. I figured the ridgeline wasnt a place for a foot to come off, so I took the time to bang my shoes on the pedals to clear the mud from both. I finally got clipped back in and took off. It wasnt long until a white steak passed me on the ridgeline. It was Chappy in his white jacket and he was hauling. I did my best to pick it up a little bit to try to keep him in sight, but he was gone. I got one last glimpse of him later as he was HABing up Marine Corp. Turns out he is mortal. I solidiered on to Marine Corp. climb and gave it my best attempt at clearing it. I came close, but stalled out on a rock near the top. I HABed to the top and jumped back on only to have the string on the baton get caught on my rear brake caliper. I had to stop, get it unhooked, and re-pocket the baton. Now I was on the final stretch and did my best to spin as fast as I could the rest of the lap. I finished the lap feeling good, I wasn’t too muddy, and Jeff was right, the conditions were perfect.

My Second Lap: After roughly 3.5 hrs of down time I headed back down to take the baton from Jeff and start my second lap. About 15 mins before my lap started it had begun to rain again. Not too hard, but I knew it would get ugly if the sky opened up. As headed out on course again the rain increased a little more. I began to have to pick lines that would keep me out of the sloppy mud. Dam Climb came and went. I stuck to my game plan again and still passed a fair number of riders, even a couple of SSers. I felt even better at the top this time and really began to push to see if I could beat my first lap time. The rain wasnt cooperating though. I again came up to the muddy uphill on the ridgeline and decided to do my best to clean it so I could avoid walking in the mud again. I could see that an inch or two below the mud the dirt was still dry. I took advantage of this and picked some different lines this time. To my amazement, and a couple of other guys at the top, I made it! By this time I was feeling like I had an even faster lap going. I made quick work of the ridgeline, but had to be a little careful because it was starting to get a little slippery in spots. By the end of the ridgeline the rain was really taking its toll on the course. I knew I had to back off a little or risk wiping out. I hit one muddy downhill corner and got really squirrelly. That got my attention. I did my best to keep up the pace, but the uphills were getting a little too slick for a SS. On the last little uphill before Marine Corp climb I had to back off the torque and feather it just to get up to the top. I knew Marine Corp was going to be next to impossible to climb, but I spun as fast as I could to the bottom and coasted as far as I could and planned to run up to the top. As my speed dwindled I jumped off and attacked only to slip to my knees and slide down hill a few feet. A couple more two steps forward and one step back maneuvers and I got to the top and back on the bike. The Home Run and final sections were a mess and really slippery by this point. The rain was coming down harder. I had to slow way down just to keep my bike upright. I was glad to be getting off the course unscathed and with my bike in decent shape. I handed the baton to Greg along with some words of caution and encouragement and then I headed back to the pit to get cleaned up.

The End?: As I cleaned up myself, and my bike, as best as I could, I started to think about how bad a night lap in the mud was going to be. I figured the next thing to do would be to see if it was even possible to catch the team in front of us or lose a position to the team behind us if we called it quits after 8 laps. Luckily I didnt have to think too hard about this scenario because at this point word came down that Jason was going to call the race and not let anyone else start their lap after 4:20 pm. I was saved! Now all that was left to do was go cheer for those that were coming in and those that were heading out for their final lap in the muddy mess.

Conclusion: Despite the rain out, I had a better than expected time at this race. I felt good for both laps. Our team ended up getting 2nd place in the 4-man single speed division. I got some bling! Special thanks to Pat and the entire MVMG team (and others) for making a great pit. The day wouldnt have been as good without all of you.

For more info about the event and it's organizer: Socal Endurance

To See the 12 hr. #3 course: 2011 12 hr.#3

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© Mike Dunn/MVMG 2011. All rights reserved.